June 21, 1940 - June 21, 2021
Born: Raleigh, NC - Died: Sacramento, CA
Interment in his beloved Mother's grave (Mrs. Mary Lou Bennett) in Albuquerque, New Mexico Thursday, September 16, 2021.
SGM Donald Graham Merritt was born on Friday, June 21,1940, but no one knows exactly where. He was delivered aboard a night train transporting his father - a member of the Tommy Dorsey band - and his mother - a Registered Nurse - as well as Army soldiers on their way to basic training for the imminent WWII conflict. Yes, an Army doctor delivered him. Since no one knew where the train was when he arrived, his birthplace was officialized at the next train stop, Raleigh, NC.
Don was brilliant, (a member of MENSA), funny, and served up his thoughts with a North Carolina drawl and no-nonsense candor. His favorite compliment was, "That's slicker than snot on a doorknob." He observed the world and made decisions with a crackling logic. "You gotta figure out which facts of life are non-negotiable and which aren't," he'd say. Don was one of seven children: James, Mary Lou Raspall, Tommy, Jane McKenna, Johnny, and Robert (Gina). James, Mary Lou Raspall, and Johnny predeceased him. He also fathered six wonderful children: Three handsome sons, Donald Alton, Stephen Andrew, and Michael (Bert); and three gorgeous daughters, Marguerite (Missie) Hess, Stephanie (Eugene Martínez), and Anne Marie. He is also survived by grandsons, Lucas (Megan) Hess, Jacob (Taylor) Hess, Zachary Hess, Spencer Moon, and Jeno Martínez; granddaughter, Cleriese Martínez; and two precious great-grandsons, Liam and Alex Hess, born three days apart!
Over the years he homed a multigenerational colony of cats - one of which lived 23 years - and later, two dogs. Don passed away exactly on his 81st birthday. A proud US Army veteran, Don saw the world with tours of duty in The Belgian Congo, Korea, Vietnam, and West Germany as well as numerous other countries, as a member of the Inspector General's Team while stationed in Fort Huachuca, Arizona for the Army Communications Command and during his second tour in Germany for the 5th Signal Command, literally "seeing the world" from Iran (during the Shah's reign), most Far East Countries, the Near East, and all of Europe. Wherever Army troops were, he inspected. He retired as a Sergeant-Major after 30 years, a rank achieved by only 2% of enlisted members. A member of the exclusive "30/30" club (30 in, 30 out); he was exceptionally proud of his long military service and even longer retirement. "I'm makin' three times more now than I was when I was workin'," he said recently, "and I've been retired longer than I served, so I figure I got a good deal." He seldom spoke of his numerous awards and decorations, among them: The Legion of Merit, The Bronze Star, The Purple Heart, 5 Meritorious Service Medals, The Army Commendation Medal, The Army Achievement Medal, 9 Good Conduct Medals, The National Defense Service Medal, The Armed Forces Expeditionary Force Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, The RVN Campaign Medal and two of The Overseas Service Bars.
His primary care doctors completely missed the multiple cancer diagnoses, surprising all with their deadly swiftness - 1 week from presentation to his untimely demise. Until that painful but mercifully brief terminal illness, Don was very active, volunteering to help people far younger than he, in a local rest home. He still played a little ball with the neighborhood kids and performed his neighborhood watch duties with that disciplined diligence unique to military men. Don's memories stretched back to VJ Day, and he once shook the hand of a man who shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. Another fame-adjacent brush was a moonlighting job at the Watergate Hotel replacing Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the now-infamous burglars. While there, he drove for Sammy Davis Jr. and Lena Horne, to name a few. Don was a staunch gun advocate - his favorite gun aphorism was, "Better to be judged by 12 than carried by six". When a home invader tried to bust through Don's front door, the crook was unpleasantly surprised by Don aiming confidently with a recently cleaned rifle, complete with extra clips and a verbal challenge not permitted in print. The intruder turned and ran for his life. "He was lucky he ran," Don said later, "Lawyers and funerals are expensive, and I just had the rug cleaned."
During his tour in Arizona, he began honing his skills at competitive shooting. He arrived on his second tour in West Germany to the little town of Neider-Flörsheim, where he and his family resided for five and a half years, surrounded by vineyards. It featured a "Schutzenhaus" (Shooting Club), where he was welcomed into their home team. Don was one of their champions, first by breaking the very obscure World Record for Black Powder Pistol, then winning their annual competition crowning the winner as "Schützenkönig" (Shooting King), not once, but twice. His photos, newspaper articles featuring his many medals, as well as his numerous accomplishments, are still proudly displayed on their walls. In an Army competition as a Sergeant-Major, he won the Commander's Cup at Fort Ord, California. After his retirement to Sacramento, California he continued to participate in local contests, winning numerous tournaments. Don once raced stock cars in his teens; he remained an avid street racer, pitting himself against random cars at the red light with equally game drivers. He also enjoyed photography as a hobby. Alas, gone now are his well-honed, street racing skills, his enthusiasm for taking pictures, his encyclopedic expertise of antique firearms, and his meticulous craftsmanship in making rounds for rare or near-obsolete firearms. His expertise will be missed at gun stores and target shooting ranges alike. His departure from this world broke many hearts.
Interment will take place on Thursday, September 16, 2021, 10:00 a.m., at Sunset Memorial Park, 924 Menaul Blvd NE, with his beloved mother, Mary Lou Bennett.
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